Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanks from A Grateful Nation

Remembrance Day in Canada and Veteran's Day in the US are both celebrated today.  Every year November 11 makes me think of the differences between my two countries.

The US relationship to it's military has been one of ups and downs.  My generation, among others, was coloured by the antimilitary attitude of Vietnam, but also by US service since then around the world and pride in our troops for serving and defending us even when we don't always agree with the mission.

Canada has no such baggage.  Canadians are proud of their service and will happily speak of Canadian tenaciousness in serving.  Their reputation for bravery is well-deserved.

In Canada, today is a day of all those who serve, but the focus is usually upon the World Wars, certainly on those no longer with us, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  It was a time Canada stepped up to the plate and gave so much more than could have been expected.

In Canada I appreciate the seriousness of the ceremony. I don't remember attending an annual ceremony on Memorial Day until I was affiliated with the military. Sometimes there were parades. Sometimes just a moment of silence. Here, I do not miss a ceremony, usually attending the one at the kids' school. This year was dedicated to those family members who served, and many did have grandparents and great aunts and uncles who supported the war efforts. It connected the kids to the day in a way I never was.

But on this day, I miss the separation of Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.  It's not enough for me to simply remember.  In the US, today is the day I say thanks to those still with us.  It is a time to celebrate those who wear the uniform, whether actively serving or retired. It is a day for celebration, because we have another day.  Memorial Day is the day for remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. And I believe those serving deserve and need celebration. They deserve a national party that proclaims, "We know freedom is not free, and we THANK YOU!"

And so, November 11 leaves me struggling and sad.  I am sad for those we lost.  I am sad for all those left behind.  I am sad for the feeling that we are losing a national resource in the vets of WWI and WWII.  I am sad that I feel we do not take enough time to thank those continuing to serve today.

It's now the day after, November 12. Poppies are gone until next year. But the feelings shouldn't be. Don't forget. If you see a vet or a soldier, it doesn't matter that it's November 12. Say thank you. They need to know you care.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Fasted For on Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is always a difficult day in North America. It's hot. It's long. It has become associated with tragedies far beyond the destruction of two Temples and the loss of our homeland. When I was in university, there was a trend to fast only half the day. Much like the midrash of Nachshon jumping into the sea before God split the waters, the modern State of Israel was the human start to bringing the messianic age. I still believe this, but my belief is tempered. While we enjoy a modern Jewish state, our unity as a people is regularly tested by the actions of those who claim to follow the letter of the law, but forget the spirit. 

Talmud Gittin tells the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza as a prelude to the destruction and exile.

A wealthy man was throwing a party. His servant was sent to invite his friend Kamza, but mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamza. When this man sees Bar Kamza at his party, he orders Bar Kamza to leave. Three times, Bar Kamza tries to save face and make peace: offering to pay for his food, for half the party, and even for the entire party. The man, so caught up in his hatred, throws Bar Kamza out. 

Humiliated, Bar Kamza seeks revenge against the rabbis who were present, but did not stand up against his public embarrassment, informing the Roman authorities that the Jews are planning a revolt. Unsure whether to believe Bar Kamza, the Roman authority sends an animal to the Temple as a peace offering. Along the way, Bar Kamza wounds the animal in a way that disqualifies it as a Jewish sacrifice, but would still be acceptable under Roman law.

When the animal arrives, the Sanhedrin debates whether to still allow the sacrifice due to the precariousness of the situation. Some say the offering should be done to avoid war. Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos says no lest it lead to people bringing blemished animals to the Temple. Others suggest Bar Kamza should be put to death to show his duplicity. Again Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos argues that this is not acceptable because death is not the penalty for bringing a wounded animal for sacrifice.

Angered by the refusal of the sacrifice, the Romans lay siege to Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan says, the result of the punctiliousness of Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos was the destruction of the Temple and exile from Israel.
Our tradition has always attributed this to senseless hatred. But it's only marginally the hatred of the man for Bar Kamza. Instead, the senseless hatred is actually loving the law more than the people. This is the senselessness. 
Our unity as a people is regularly threatened by those in the State of Israel who put their interpretation of the law before the unity of the Jewish people. We have never been a monolithic people when it comes to interpretation, but we have stood together through the good and the bad. Israel must be a place where all Jews can have a comfortable home free of intimidation and fear. Until that day, I will be fasting all day.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Amy Schumer, Body Image, and Yummy Mummys (Warning: link to explicit content)

Sometimes it takes me a few days (or more) to get down to writing. At work, or in the middle of Shabbat prep, I jot notes down to blog later. When we're traveling, I write draft titles to remind me later. And sometimes, ideas strike me on Shabbat, and I just have to hope I'll remember.

Friday, July 17, the National Post had an article focused on eating disorders in the News section. What was different about this article was the age group. Eating disorders are nothing new, though still terrifying to any parent. However, there was a marked increase in the 1970's and 80's. Now, the children who grew up at that time are entering middle age, and taking their eating disorders with them. As the article points out, men are told to "embrace their 'dad bod.'" Women don't have that luxury. Instead, we're told to strive to be a "yummy mummy."

The mortality rate for eating disorders is 10-20%, one of the deadliest mental illnesses. Even with that, eating disorders are sometimes seen as not real illnesses.

Now, everything I read here upset me. I had a friend in junior high who suffered from anorexia. We haven't been in touch in decades, but I still think of her from time to time. Keren and I talk frequently about body image and diet. She worries about a few friends who seem to talk a lot about their bodies in negative ways. There are many women in my family who are as wide as they are tall. Long ago I accepted that I would never be Twiggy. While I wouldn't mind losing some weight now, (mostly because I don't want my parents' health problems), I've always embraced my muscular build, even knowing I'd never fit in skinny jeans (not even as a 10 year old).

I rarely get to the Friday paper on Friday, and last week was no different. As I worked my way through the Friday/Saturday sections, I came to an article called, "The Amy Effect," about Amy Schumer. If you've been living under a rock, you may not know that Amy Schumer is a raunchily funny comedian, who is very attractive and not built like Twiggy. She stars in Trainwreck, a script she wrote. Most of the article focused on her rise as a comedian, but a few things struck me. Most specifically, a comment about her new movie. "In a post called 'Apatow's Funny-Chubby Community Has New Member,' film and TV critic Jeff Wells criticizes the director for casting the 'unattractive' Schumer. Much debate ensues over whether Wells is hot enough to be a critic."

I have a few questions. First, why is Judd Apatow's community called "Funny-Chubby?" Why isn't it enough to call them funny. Back in 2009, when Seth Rogen, part of Apatow's group, lost weight, critics questioned whether he'd be as funny if he wasn't fat. Did his weight effect his acting ability? More importantly, why is it that a woman has to be stick-like to be beautiful. I think Amy Schumer is lovely (Sean agrees. He's always preferred curves.)

Amy Schumer has curves. So did Marilyn Monroe. Amy Schumer also has a biting humour that's taking on accepted norms. (**warning**) One brilliant take is her video "Last F**kable Day," Ms. Schumer happens upon Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus having a picnic celebration for Ms. Louis-Dreyfus' last day of sexual desirability. (The video is filled with explicit language.) It's a point men never reach. This is clear if you google sexy female/male stars. The men's list is filled with men in their 40's, 50'3 and beyond. The women's list barely has anyone in their 30's. Female sex symbols of the past are constantly eclipsed by new, younger women, whereas, men just seem to get better and better. In the video, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is very surprised she was able to be f**kable throughout her 40's and into her 50's. We're also reminded that Sally Field once played Tom Hanks love interest and then played his mom.

I have to ask, why, when women should be reaching their peaks in careers, settling into their lives, and being ultimately comfortable in their own skin, we need a new attack on women. When will the world actually realize (not just give lip-service to) the fact that real women have curves, and we're all the better for them!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kallah Classes

I am working on a curriculum for a kallah class. For those who don't know what that is, a kallah is a bride. So these are bride classes, although much of it applies to grooms as well. Kallah classes are common in the Orthodox world, but almost unheard of outside of those circles. When Sean and I were married, not only were there no kallah classes in the Conservative Movement, many teachers would have been uncomfortable, at best, or unwilling, at worst, to have a female rabbinical student in the class. I made do with my own learning, but I wish I had explored it further. It's a lack I try to fill when I work with couples. I believe in the laws of taharat hamishpacha and mikveh as a beautiful and spiritual mitzvah that can have personal and couple benefits.

So what's in a kallah class? That's one of the things I'm trying to figure out. Primarily they were given to explain the laws behind the laws of niddah and taharat hamishpacha (family purity). Exceptional teachers would likely include the things your mother never told you, aka a bit of sex ed. For couples with little contact before, and no intimate contact, it was important to prepare them both for the wedding night and beyond. Turns out, that even for couples who are intimate, this can be important. In my search for information I discovered that today many kallah classes include more sex ed. Some include anatomy. After all, it's been a long time since high school biology, and understanding you body is important for anyone. Others speak of taharat hamishpacha as some sort of war against sin or temptation. And there's the full range in between. As with anything, there are wonderful and terrible classes out there. In many ways, choosing a teacher is like similar to finding your mate. Chemistry and a shared outlook on life is important.

Kallah classes are meant to be more than premarital classes. This you can get through Jewish Family & Child. So why a kallah class? I think that one on one instruction or single gender instruction is different than working with couples. There's a different intimacy and comfort level. A good kallah teacher will build a relationship the bride can use in the future, providing a safe space to ask questions without judgement and with no one else to hear.

In doing my research, speaking both with kallah teachers and with married women, I ask these questions-

  • What do you wish you had known then (at the time of your wedding) that you know now?
  • What was the best part of your kallah class?
  • What was the worst part of your kallah class?
  • What surprised you?
So now, I put this out to you, my readers, not just the brides, not just the married folks, but all of you.

  • If married, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?
  • What was the hardest thing to learn?
  • What surprised you?
  • What advice would you give to someone getting married?
  • What was the worst advice you received?
  • What was the best advice you received?
Thank you in advance for your feedback. I'll keep you posted.

Have a good night.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Most Likely to Marry a Rabbi

Thirty years ago I participated in USY Pilgrimage. It was a summer that profoundly affected my life.

I'm to the right of the sign, in the blue shorts and white T. It was 1985. It was the year JTS ordained the first Conservative woman as a rabbi, the culmination of 15 years of work by Ezrat Nashim, a group founded to study the status of women in Judaism. As USYers we didn't know about that. For us, the status quo remained.

I was one of the few girls on the trip who could lead t'fillot. I'd never learned to read Torah, nor really haftarah, but I knew the prayers. (Thanks Mr. Werfel and USY.) This left me in the position of leading what girls could lead (anything that didn't require a minyan). After many mornings of waiting for 10 boys to get to t'fillot on time, I, with a group of other girls, argued for a women's only minyan. At the end of the summer our group, as all groups before and after, gave out summer awards. My group gave me the "Most Likely to Marry a Rabbi" award since I couldn't be a rabbi. It was the first time anyone suggested anything remotely connected to me becoming a rabbi, although it would be another 3 years before the idea would actually take hold. This finally occurred when my suite mate at Brandeis, Brian Meyers, suggested it to me after an evening of group soul-searching among us liberal arts majors. (We believed we were only suited for grad school.) But once the idea took seed it was settled. I knew it was the right decision.

This is the 30th anniversary of that historic event (both women's ordination and my award). Sean & I were proud to travel to New York for the celebration. I also attended a special women's conference to celebrate the 20th anniversary. I'm in the second row, middle, tweed jacket and black turtleneck with long blond hair.

At my Rabbinical School interview I said my goal was to change the world by reaching out and touching one person at a time. Looking over 30 years from that Pilgrimage summer until now, I realize how lucky I've been to have been a part of this!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Healthy Jewish Deli or The Way to a Grandchild's Heart is Through His Stomach

As we wandered through tonight's epic search for a salad, I found myself thinking of our recent visit to my parents. Visits to New Jersey are usually punctuated with food. There is the trip to the deli, the kosher Chinese take out, the Italian place that has excellent sushi, and, of course, the bags breakfast on our way out of town. If we're lucky, there are additional trips to Carvel (more likely a Carvel cake bought at the supermarket) and or Dunkin Donuts.

We were only in NJ for a few days, and so time to run from cuisine to cuisine was limited. Nevertheless, we managed (arriving Sunday and leaving Thursday):

Monday- Dinner at Lox, Stock, and Deli, the local kosher deli. There was chicken pot pie, kosher bakery cookies, and lots and lots of pickles. Two-thirds of a large menu page was salads. There was also a salad bar and pepper-encrusted tuna. There were "healthy choices."

Tuesday- a trip to Carvel, the best soft-serve ice cream anywhere on earth. I had a medium chocolate soft-serve with coloured sprinkles. American sprinkle are different than Canadian sprinkles. They are softer, less crunchy and candy-like. They are one of the few things I truly miss about the US. We also purchased chocolate crunch, a crunchy chocolate something that Carvel puts in-between the layers of it's ice-cream cakes to make them the best ever!

Wednesday- Chinese food for dinner, lots and lots, and lots of Chinese food.

Thursday- heading out. As usual we ended our visit with breakfast with M&D at the bagel place. An everything bagel with whitefish salad, this time washed down with a Yoo Hoo, another American food. The bagels to go are almost gone.

After tonight's salad quest, I was amazed at how easy it was to find multiple salad choices in a traditional kosher deli.

L'havdil (and now for something completely different)

A devout hasid dies and goes to heaven. Upon entering he sees an elaborate and beautiful feast. Wondering if it was kosher, he asked ArchAngel Gabriel, "Who's the mashgiach?" Gabriel answers, "The Kadosh Baruch Hu, the Almighty Himself oversees all the food." The hasid replies, "I'll have the fruit plate."

Nighty night y'all.

In Search of a Salad

About a year ago, Sean and I went to a delicious vegetarian Indian restaurant in Buffalo.

Today, we tried to go back.

Palace of Dosas is now a comics and games shop. They sell costumes for cosplay. If we had more time, I might have checked out the Dr. Who section that I'm sure they had. As it was, we were already about 30 minutes behind our plan. After calling 2 more veggie restaurants, one with no answer and one closed on Sundays, we headed into the (not yet) sunset in search of a salad.

It turns out that a salad is much harder to find than one would think. Gone are the days when very restaurant was seeking to attract newly health-conscious clients with delicious salads and expansive salad bars. No more is there a page of salads in the menu.


Buffalo is loyal to it's self-titled, deep fried nosh, the Buffalo wing. Healthy, fresh food is not a priority. It is home to the Anchor Bar, apocryphally the birthplace of the buffalo wing, and to Duff's, the supposed best buffalo wings anywhere. Salads are simply NOT on the menu. If any were to be found, they were either a Greek salad, a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with a bit of pepper or cucumber thrown in, or a salad heavily laden with treyf.

With hunger growing we searched, seemingly in vain. At the third place we tried, the hostess remembered there was a place with a salad bar not too far away. "I was just there. It's called Steak and something. No, that's not it..." "Sirloin," I asked, "on Maple" (Maple is the street). "Yes that's it!" We had passed Scotch & Sirloin, writing it off as impossibly treyf and unlikely to have what we needed since it looked small from the outside. A bit dejected, we decided to give it a try, stopping at one more location on the way.

Finally, at our fifth restaurant, the hostess replied, "Yes. We do have a salad bar." "Really?" we asked incredulously. "Table for four." We opened our menu.


  • Clams Casino
  • Clams on the Half Shell
  • Deep Fried Onion Rings
  • Stuffed Hot Banana Peppers, with sausage and cheese stuffing
  • Deep Fried Shrimp
  • Escargot
  • Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail
  • Bacon-wrapped Scallops
Every soup was meat based. There was one vegetarian option and 3 fish options not 100% treyf. The (extremely nice and helpful) server came to tell us the specials. When she described a steak seasoned with "kosher salt" it was all we could do not to burst out laughing. We were in the House of Treyf.

It turns out, not only does Scotch & Sirloin have a lovely salad bar, it costs only $9 for unlimited servings. Clearly this is not their big money maker. Plus, I think the restaurant is bigger on the inside. Dr. Who fans will know what I mean.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Universe Conspired Against Me: Missing the End of an Era

I'm catching up on drafts. I listed a few planned blogs throughout the pain of the past months, but many were never finished. So here I am, finishing the ones I most cared about.

I am an Islanders fan. I grew up in Merrick, a stone's throw from Nassau Coliseum. Officially the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, it was also known as the Old Barn. It was a beloved old arena, but sorely outdated. For 43 years the Islanders played there. The Old Barn was spartan. Seats were uncomfortable. The noise echoed in an ear-splitting din that made the building shake. But through it all, the Old Barn was beloved. Not only close to the Coliseum, I grew up in Islanders' heyday. Four Stanley Cups and 19 post-season series. Islanders' players also mingled with fans. I remember seeing players at public rinks. They spoke to us from the tunnel. They'd smile at us from the benches. We felt they were our team. We lived and breathed blue and orange. Even now, I have an Isles' jersey in my closet and a mini hockey stick on my office wall.

This year the Isles played their last game (maybe) in the Old Barn. (Rumor has it they may play a few games in the future). For all of its drawbacks, it was wonderful. Small and intimate, it felt like we were all a family cheering together.

December was the last time I was in the tri-state during hockey season. My last two Isles games were here in Toronto. This trip, my brother and I were planning a trek back to the Coliseum for a game. It was a bad idea. I was suffering from sciatica. Russ was good and sick. Neither of us was up for a two-hour trip to Long Island. Still, we were hopeful. Unfortunately for our plans Russell took Dad to a doctor's appointment. That ran late and into traffic on the way back. They arrived home way too late to start the drive to Uniondale. Simple fate prevented me from attending that final game.
Hindsight, even as it was happening, told me it was for the best. Neither Russell nor I belonged in a car that night. We would have driven 3 1/2 - 4 hours sick and in pain. We would have sat in cramped uncomfortable seats. We would have paid for it dearly in the days after. Still, I wish I had the chance. For the first time in a long time the Isles were playing great. It was a pleasure to watch. Reading the stats raised my spirits. After getting so used to disappointment, I didn't know how to react. What I do know, is it was the way the Isles needed to say goodbye to the Old Barn. In the words (slightly edited to the first person) of Joe Delessio, a writer for Sports on Earth, "it might be a dump, but it was our dump."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Most Canadian Thing We've Ever Done

This post was meant to be posted in February. I typed the title, then got sidetracked. Driving to Ottawa turned out to be a setback, and between that, work, and life I never finished.

Each year since the first Family Day weekend we have traveled to Ottawa for Winterlude. The first year was accidental. I was trailing on business to Montreal and Ottawa. Sean came to join me in Montreal for Shabbat, and then onto Ottawa. We met up with friends there. My family enjoyed the new Family Day while I had meetings. We returned with those friends the next year.  We stay in a suite hotel near the canal, sharing Shabbat. We walked to the downtown synagogue. Saturday night we'd tour the ice sculptures in Confederation Park. Sunday, we'd head to Gatineau. We ate Beavertails and maple taffy. We drank hot cocoa and scotch.

As the years have passed, the group has grown, and so has the popularity of Winterlude. The children are old enough that we travel with our own minyan. One family in the group owns a Torah, and we share the responsibilities for t'fillot and reading. The crowds also grow each year as Family Day has become ingrained in our calendar. This year, motzei-Shabbat we headed out to see the ice sculptures as usual. We were greeted with rope lines to control the crowds. While standing on line (Yes, I know. If I were really Canadian, I'd say "in line.") one of the teens (also American by birth) described our actions as "the most Canadian thing we've ever done." Here we were, standing on line, in the freezing cold, politely without any pushing. There was an occasional jostle, always followed by "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me."

At this moment our friend shared a story. In a class, with a professor trying to illustrate the differences in regional dialects, the professor asked the students "if you were waiting for a bus, what would you be doing?" Generally there were two answers, "standing in line" or "standing on line." One student, a New Yorker, responded differently. To the question, "if you were waiting for a bus, what would you be doing?" He replied, "Pushing." I'm a New Yorker. To me, and to our American friends, this was an unusual scene, but as we looked on we realized, this was the most Canadian thing we've ever done. In true Canadian fashion, we waited patiently. Took in the sculptures, snapped pictures, and headed over to the Beavertails booth.

Moments With My Daughter

Okay, I shouldn't be typing this. I should be sleeping. But then so should Keren, who is sitting next to me. Why? Because we just finished watching Sleepless in Seattle. We'll go to be in a few minutes.

On Friday we were talking about the movie. Before we could watch it, Keren had to see An Affair to Remember and The Dirty Dozen. We did watch An Affair to Remember, but she only saw the grenade scene from The Dirty Dozen. Then Sleepless in Seattle.

Yes, I will regret this when I wake at 8-ish tomorrow morning, but it was so nice to share this time and laugher with my daughter. Even though I know I should be sleeping more, I hate to sacrifice these special moments. They fly by just too quickly.

Nighty night.

Pain & Perspective II

It's been 4 1/2 months since I've been blogging. When I last wrote about this I thought I was back; if not totally well, then better. What I learned was better is not enough. In many ways worse was actually better. When I was worse I could focus solely on getter better. As I healed I returned to regular activity, but I wasn't better. Regular activity left me sore and achey. 10 months later there are still things I can't do. I've resumed driving, but too much leaves me in pain. Long trips are almost unbearable, but no longer unavoidable. My garden is a disaster, with not hope in sight. After five years it was finally at a point where I could control and build it. Next year will be like starting over. Working two days in a row causes me pain. I simply can't sit at a desk that long. Looking at a computer screen, whether at work or at home is a problem. By the end of the day I can't bear to spend more time on the computer, whether email, Facebook, or blogging. Shopping is impossible. I keep trying, but pushing a shopping cart, packing bags, or loading and unloading groceries mean days of painkillers.

There are still adjustments. Mornings are longer and later . I need to do my stretches each morning, but earlier wake up times leave me exhausted. My sleep still isn't what it used to be. For the kids, this meant they were still getting to school late, even on days when I drove them. I've learned to automatically turn by body in bed and slide my legs straight off instead of swinging them down. Two days of swinging my legs causes pain in my right knee (my so-called good knee). I remind myself to change my position often. When cooking, I try to remember to wear crocs and stand on a pad. The floor is simply too hard.

I'd like to think the pain will still go away, but I'm beginning to doubt. I've learned the interconnectedness of my body. I tore cartilage in my right knee. That will never heal; beyond occasional pain it's not debilitating. So, no surgery. I understand and agree. Unfortunately this caused me to walk oddly. That caused the sciatica, which led me to to meds and lack of aerobic exercise, plus (admittedly) some stress eating (more on that later). This led to weight gain, causing more problems with the back and the knee. I've also noticed what I think is arthritis in my big toe. My entire right side now needs replacement.

I've also realized that the worst of it all is exhaustion. It's all I can do to get through a day. I move slower. Tasks take twice the time, and my days are longer. On Shabbat my body shuts down. My body knows, subconsciously, that Shabbat is a day for rest. It's not unusual for me to fall asleep early Friday night, followed by 6-7 hours of sleep on Saturday.

Of course this isn't all, but that is another entry. For now, it's time I took more time for myself, more time to relax, to shut down, to sleep. I need to get back to exercising. I need to revamp my diet, no more grabbing whatever's easy. I have to plan menus making sure the right foods are in the house. Sean and the kids were wonderful, but in the end, if I don't make my meals (at least breakfast and lunch and plan dinner) the are inevitably things I shouldn't eat, leaving me hungry and needy. I need to sleep enough each night, difficult due to pain and the piles of papers and projects that have built up through the past ten months.

Most of all I need to try to put me first. I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conversations from the Rabbis' Table, January 21, 2015- Darwin & Rashi

You might think that the title of this entry means we had an intellectual discussion this evening. Alas, no. Our younger son  is currently obsessed with them. Each night at dinner, we are treated to a recitation of his favourite award winners. If you don't know the Darwin Awards, nominees must remove themselves from the gene pool in particularly fantastic fashion. Usually they are awarded posthumously. Anyway, you can imagine how the evening's recitation inspires us all to eat.

My family, all talk at once, sometimes with food in their mouths. Sean adds strange puns and movie, play, or book references. This then requires me to act as a rashi to their conversation, even amongst themselves. I often play this role, especially for Sean, translating his puns and references into workable conversation, as Rashi, supposedly, does for the gemmorah.

Tonight, additionally, Sean thinks he's in a Shakespeare play, as does our eldest, who performed Hamlet in a class at school today. He seems out of place in his vest and tie, with a sword at his side. The sword actually made an appearance, leading me to say, "There is no sword-play in the house," as my sons moved from the kitchen to the foyer in a duel, sword against arm.

I often wonder if others have dinners like these.

Erev tov.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

All Arrogant Worms All the Time

I wrote earlier that we went, as a family, to an Arrogant Worms concert in December. For three years now, we've chosen a special show to see as a family. We also try to see Shakespeare in the Park in August. The hope is to have the kids experience a wide-range of cultural events while having fun. We've seen:

  • Macbeth
  • Midsummer Night's Dream
  • The Winter's Tale
  • Potted Potter
  • Les Miserables
and this year, The Arrogant Worms. We're not sure if moving from Les Mis to the Arrogant Worms is a move up, down, or simply zig zag. What I am sure of is that while the songs of Les Mis were played in the car, they didn't take over our every waking hour.

Anyway, at the concert we purchased two CDs. These now have a permanent home in the car. Their music is on the computer and the ipad. In our home, it's ALL ARROGANT WORMS ALL THE TIME!!!!! The kids sing the songs in the morning. They listen to the discs whenever in the car. They sing in the evening. I left the house for the supermarket with "Celine Dion" in my head. While at the market "Brad" was there. Earlier today, and even now, I hear "Yoga Pants" playing in my head. I even woke up one day with lyrics and music in my mind. We sing "Carrot Juice is Murder" while we make salad, and "Go to Sleep Little Leech" is appropriate at all times. In fact, Jesse, who is eating all our food at midnight, is humming it right now. It's a lullaby for parents to sing to their little darlings. It's become our anthem (mostly because we have wonderful kids, and our experience is the polar opposite of the song, but, hey, that's comedy).

If you get the chance, go see the Arrogant Worms. They're really fun.  Just don't call out during "Mounted Animal Nature Trail."  Also, as great as Shakespeare or Les Mis are, try Potted Potter. Gavi actually fell out of his seat while laughing. It's that funny.

Now, with Jesse's leechy lullaby in my ears, I bid you a goodnight.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Parashat Bo- Rosh Chodesh & Happy New Years

Hachodesh hazeh lakhem rosh chodashim rishon hu lakhem l’chodshei hashanah.
This month will be for you the beginning of the first month for you of the months of the year. (Shemot 12:2)
Just a short time ago we celebrated the start of 2015. New Year’s Eve is also known as Saint Sylvester’s Day. Pope Sylvester served from December 31, 314 – December 31, 335. January 1 is marked liturgically as a feast celebrating the circumcision of Jesus. Pope Gregory chose it as the start of the year when he created the calendar used by most of the world today. Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the two-faced god of gates who can look forward and back, and the one from whom we get the name of the first month, January.
Because of its beginnings in pagan, and later Catholic religion, many Jews choose to wish people a “Happy secular new year,” or skip any sort of wishes. They buy into the “Happy holidays” greeting adopted to deal with the December dilemma. How to greet people at this time of year is a discussion that graces out kitchen table every year. Rav Sean is a big proponent of living our lives according to the Jewish calendar. I agree. My year goes from September to September, (mostly) according to the Jewish calendar. My week runs from Shabbat to Shabbat. I also like to celebrate the new secular year. I generally say, “Happy 2015,” or whatever the year is, but I am also okay with “Happy New Year.” I like celebrations, big and small. Our secular New Year’s celebrations are low-key. We’re homebodies. We watch a movie, or two. We eat more than we should. We stay up late. I celebrate every birthday. I don’t care if the world knows how old I am. It’s better than the alternative. I want parties for every holiday. I’d celebrate Wednesdays if I could figure out how.
Rosh Hodesh marks the monthly passage of time. It’s a day that is special to women. According to legend, women refused to take part in the incident of the golden calf. For this, they merited a reward. They were given Rosh Hodesh as a day free from labour. The connection of the moon and our lunar calendar to women is also noted. I look forward to adding Hallel to celebrate on those days. I can be found singing the psalms out loud. I will admit to not being a great davener of Shacharit. I get through it. I am not a morning person, and it takes much of my concentration to focus any time before 9:30 AM. But Rosh Hodesh is different. Rosh Hodesh pulls me from my rote repetition of t’fillot to sing aloud. I celebrate the passage of time each Shabbat, each Rosh Hodesh, each holiday, and each new year. Anne Shirley, in Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, said, “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.” It’s a great reason to celebrate.

Conversations at the Rabbis Table January 19, 2015

I am often amazed at the range of conversation at our table. Tonight was a textbook example of an evening that produces this amazement.

Dinner was almost on the table when Sean walked in the door with the kids. The conversation began with our younger son asking questions about the hour by which one must recite the Shema and the Amidah. He's studying this topic in Talmud class. Each student was supposed to go home; explain the topic to two people, and get their opinions. It's a pretty straight forward topic in the Talmud, and Sean and I gave the simple answer as it appears. Of course he skipped the explanation. With two rabbis as parents, he felt he could get away with it. We discussed times when we (admittedly mostly Sean) got up early or stayed up before going to bed in order to recite our t'fillot on time. It seemed like maybe this evening would be one of those esoteric evenings that sometimes happen. Oh no, it was not to be. Somewhere between the table and the microwave (to heat a taco shell) a wrestling match broke out. I'm not really sure if it could be called wrestling, since it moved from the kitchen to the foyer.  Eventually it moved to the stairs, which serves as home base, so everything had to stop. Then there were discussions about anxiety and stress and the medical causes of it. But once again we veered away from the intellectual, and the lyrics of the Arrogant Worms entered the conversation. For Hanukah we attended an Arrogant Worms concert, and our home has become all Arrogant Worms all the time.  In fact, as I type this "I Am Cow" is playing.  We are all singing along.  We harmonize very nicely. If you don't know it, check it out. Earlier we were singing "Yoga Pants." I think the family favourite is "Carrot Juice is Murder."

I think if someone tried to follow our conversations as an observer, he'd get whiplash.

Signing off to "Jesus' Brother Bob." Erev tov.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vaera- Lo Alecha Hamlacha Ligmor: You are not obligated to finish the work

Lakhein emor livnei-Yisrael “Ani Adonai v’hotzeiti etkhem mitachat sivlot Mitzrayim v’hitzalti etkhem mei’avodatam v’ga’alti etkhem bizroa n’tuyah uvishpatim g’dolim.”
Therefore, say to the children of Israel, “I am Adonai, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Shemot 6:6)
There is still so much more work to do.” This is the sentence with which I ended last week’s drash. Here it is- the outstretched arm. The arm Rav Kook, saw as a move towards the future.
Anokhi asiti et-ha’aretz, et-ha’adam v’et-ha’b’heimah asher al-p’nei ha’aretz, bkhochi hagadol, uvi’z’ro’i ha’n’tuyah; u’n’tatiha, la’asher yashir b’einav. “I have made the earth, the human, and the beast that is upon the face of the earth, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and I gave it to the one who was right in my eyes.” (Jeremiah 27:5) For Jeremiah, the outstretched arm is the creative force.
Midrash teaches that Pharaoh’s daughter stretched out her arm to bring in the basket in which baby Moshe was placed. The outstretched arm is a saving force.
The National Center for Jewish Healing, which is a North American program from the Jewish Board of Family and Child services, calls its journal The Outstretched Arm.
Psalm 136:12 says B’yad chazakah, uvizroa ntuyah: ki l’olam chasdo; with a strong hand and an outstretched arm: for God’s mercy endures forever.
Just as Rav Kook taught, an outstretched arm is unrealized potential. It is the creative hand of the artist, of the chef. It is the comforting arm of a parent or a guardian. It is the arm of a doctor, a nurse, a counselor, all who help in health and healing. It is the arm of anyone in our lives who might comfort us. This is the arm of a teacher or a friend. It is the arm of a carpenter, and electrician, a tradesperson. It is the outstretched arm of a child, filled with potential. It is the symbol of the future.

Pirkei Avot (2:21) teaches, "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." That outstretched arm is the symbol of the start. We must be part of it, to stretch out our arms and get our hands dirty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Shades of Green

Today is Tuesday. Today Sean & I went shopping. We bought two large bunches of bananas. They are on sale at Yummy Market for .49/pound. This is not notable. What is notable is the fact that I purchased three large bunches of bananas on Friday.

Bananas in my home are frustrating. I like bananas. So do all the members of my family. I like my bananas ripe, that is to say, yellow with just a few brown spots, or more than a few. Sean likes his bananas green. I don't mean yellow with a little green. Does he not realize that if you have to cut the banana with a knife it's not meant to be eaten yet?! Sean will eat bananas from fully green to yellow, in every shade of green. He will eat them everyday. Bananas are rarely allowed to ripen in our home anymore. It makes it near impossible for me to get a banana. I try. I buy ever increasing amounts of bananas in the vague hope that I will someday be able to get just one ripe, yellow banana, beyond its shades of green.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Having One's Rabbinate Thrust Upon You

Sean and I have long discussed how interesting it would be to have both of us write or speak on the same topic. Anyone who's seen one of us teach with the other in the room will know how we tend to interrupt each other. We generally agree on topics, but come to them from very different points of view.  In the end we decided explore how our individual rabbinates have evolved over our almost twenty years out of the Seminary. After you enjoy this, go to Sean's Blog for his point of view.

There's a story told around the Seminary about a conversation that occurred in an elevator with one of the Seminary's professors. There was once a rabbinical student who was not the top of his class. He wasn't even the middle. It's not that he didn't have the skills. He was somewhat of a goof-off, and he squeaked by. Every day this student would ride the Brush elevator with this professor. They never spoke. (While greatly respected, he was also a object of awe by most students.) In his final year, as graduation approached, this student suddenly realized he would soon bear the title of Rabbi and the responsibility that goes with it. Plucking up his courage in the elevator one day, the student fearfully asked, "Professor, I'm about to graduate. My congregants will look to me to have the answers. Why should they listen to me?" The professor, pulling himself up straight to his full (very short) height, stared down this goof-off off a student, and said, "BECAUSE YOU'RE THE RABBI!"

Whether this ever occurred or not, this is a story that resonates with every rabbi-to-be. Although, like with any profession, a piece of paper gives us the title, it's years of experience that really do make the difference. We all come out of school filled with facts, but little real wisdom. Of course, at times the rabbinate is thrust upon us. What makes us real rabbis is what we do in those moments.

My first moment came in my first year as a rabbi. After graduation, my home congregation had honoured me at the annual JTS fundraiser. I still have the tzedakah box they gave me. It's in my living room, next to the couch. I was humbled by the honour, thinking, "They could have had a great professor, but they chose me. Wow." That wasn't the moment. The moment came six months later. I was at a Torah Fund talk being done by a friend, a classmate of Sean's. The room was filled with older women, three JTS students, and one rabbi- me. About half-way through the program a woman said, "I have a question for the lady rabbi." Lady rabbi, I was the ONLY rabbi. It was a moment of realization that it wasn't enough to have a diploma. I had to become RABBI Jennifer Gorman.

Another moment came 5 years later. I had been hired as the rabbi of a day school. The president of the school was uncomfortable with the idea of a woman rabbi. He had the job title changed, so I became a resource instead of the Rabbi in Residence. But it didn't end there. At curriculum night he introduced the faculty, support staff, and administration. Somehow he forgot to introduce me. When a question came up that should have been directed to me, he directed it to an administrator. I jumped in, introducing myself and answering the question. The next day, when he was in the school, I asked to speak with him. Asking him to follow me to my office, I walked around my desk, speaking from my place of power. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had slighted and embarrassed me the previous night, and that I would not stand for such disrespect again. By the time he left my office I was shaking, but I never let him see me sweat. That was the day I learned, like Esther in the Megillah, to wear my rabbinate as a garment, visible to the world.

A third moment was our move to Toronto. It was a wonderful choice to come here, but I was the first female Conservative rabbi in Ontario and east. Once again I was breaking down doors. I was changing attitudes towards what is traditional Conservative Judaism. Here I have been confronted with both old and new issues. I was again the lady rabbi. I was a the only woman in our RA region, and served (for a longer than normal term) as its president. I was invited to speak in congregations where I cannot even open the ark. I have been challenged by practices where I am excluded, practices that were supposed regional policy, but were never put in writing.

I never wanted to be the stand on a soapbox reformer. And yet, it was thrust upon me. It's only now, in hindsight, that I have realized that, by just being true to myself I, not so much broke through, but calmly opened doors and removed walls. Without ever meaning to I have lived a life of firsts.
  • I was the first Shabbat morning bat mitzvah at my synagogue. (Actually it was a whole weekend, with a 'traditional' Friday night bat mitzvah and a repeat of the haftarah on Shabbat.) It took 20 years before I had an aliyah at Merrick Jewish Centre. My first was after my daughter was born.
  • I was the first woman at my synagogue and in my USY region to decide to wear tallit and tefillin.  I later found out that one family of four daughters discussed me regularly (and positively) at their Shabbat table. One Shabbat morning a little boy, maybe 4 years old, looked up at me in my tallit, and said, "You're not a boy!" His father was mortified. I, however, just smiled; knelt down, and confirmed his statement. "No, I'm not a boy. Boys have to wear tallitot, but girls are allowed to wear them too." He smiled, and skipped away. Now, Merrick Jewish Centre is filled with women wearing tallitot. 
  • I joined a rabbinical school class that was 1/4 women. In two years this ratio would rise to 1:2. Even in that group I was different. I chose the separate seating minyan in the Stein Chapel at JTS, challenging the idea of where women rabbis belonged and how women rabbis would act.
  • While not the first, Sean & I were one of the early rabbinic couples. Going into the military, I challenged the image of what a chaplain's wife should be. I was clergy in my own right; educated more than most, and available to step in when needed.
  • I was the first woman rabbi to serve as Rabbi in Residence at the Brandeis School on Long Island and the first to teach at USDS in Toronto, giving students and faculty their first introduction to the idea that women can be rabbis and wear tallit and tefillin. 
  • I was the first Conservative woman rabbi in Ontario, to work at a Conservative synagogue in eastern Canada, and to speak at synagogues in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and London, opening people's eyes and minds to the idea that women can be traditional, halakhic, and rabbis.
  • I was the first woman to serve on the Executive of the Canadian Region of the Rabbinical Assembly.
  • While not the first, I am one of the few women at Ramah and in USY who wear tallit and tefillin. I am one of the rabbis who recites Kaddish for the camp. I am the only woman rabbi so many of these kids will ever see, but I open doors by just being there.
There are also the moments that hurt.
  • That first statement, "I have a question for the lady rabbi." Was "lady rabbi" somehow different than rabbi. After all, I was the only rabbi in the room. It's funny, but really not.
  • After answering a question for a congregant, as I turned away he said, "She's very good. It's a shame she's a woman. She'd make a great rabbi." I'd been a rabbi for seven years at that time.
  • There was the congregation which I visited that stressed to me "We're fully egalitarian," but then added "We'd never hire a woman rabbi." Oddly, the person was trying to stress, with pride, their so-called equal stance. Why even tell me that? I wasn't looking for a job.
  • After confronting the school president about slighting me, my job was eliminated for the next year. It was the only legal way they could fire me. They had no cause. I still have the letters from parents and school board members urging me to sue after they'd heard him say, "We're only keeping Rabbi Gorman until we can hire a male rabbi."
And there are moments of pride.
  • At a conference in honor of the 20th anniversary of Conservative Women's Ordination, I lunched with two women, one older and one younger. The older colleague had been a teacher of the younger. The younger spoke of how she'd never have gone into the rabbinate if it hadn't been for the other as a role model. In that moment I realized the importance of simple presence.
  • There was the moment a colleague made reference to women rabbis as a passing fad. It was the only time I ever felt slighted by a colleague. Since he wasn't someone I fully respect, it was easy to shrug off. The real embarrassment came from my other colleagues around the table who were horrified. I thank them to this day.
  • At my final convention while working for Eastern Canadian Region of USY, my USYers and my staff presented me with gifts and speeches. The gifts ranged from practical to silly. The speeches, however, spoke to how important my presence had been in opening their hearts, their eyes, and their minds to Judaism and to the idea of women as rabbis. The most touching came from one of my most right-wing USYers. He's studying to be a teacher and an Orthodox rabbi, but I will always be one of his rabbis. I couldn't ask for a better legacy than that.
Each rabbi's rabbinate takes on a life of its own. It's rarely what you expect when you leave seminary. I expected to be a hospital chaplain. Instead I've touched so many different areas, and, through that, so many more people than I'd ever have thought. It's amazing to be part of a moment that makes you that individual's rabbi. Once there, you're there forever, even if you never see him/her again. I'm in a good place. I can look forward to many more years in the rabbinate, but I am also at an age where I an confident in who I am, where I've been, and where I am now. I have nothing to prove to anyone. That in itself is satisfying.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

City Sidewalks, Pretty Sidewalks, and Things I Miss

Okay, I know it's January 6, but Christmas lights haven't come down yet. Christmas tree collection isn't until next week. I get one last hurrah in my annual I love Christmas phase.

Did you know that every year hundreds of singers participate in Sing on Sixth. They traditionally start with Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," and go on with "seasonal favorites." If Sean and I regret anything in our marriage, it's that we never did go and sing with them. Choral groups from across the tri-state and hundreds of passers-by just stop and sing. Perhaps someday, when we are no longer controlled by the school schedule, we will go.

At this time of year I miss roasted chestnuts bought from a street vendor. I've made them at home, but they lack that wonderful smokey taste. They're not he same without warming my hands, through my gloves, on the newspaper wrapper. I want to burn my fingers or tongue while trying to peel the hot shell from the nut.

I want just a little longer to walk in the city and have everyone smile at each other. I want to recapture the joy with which people say, "Happy, Holidays," "Merry Christmas," or "Happy New Year." It's only January 6th. Tomorrow is Christmas (on the Eastern Orthodox calendar). We still have time. Smile. Drink egg nog and warm holiday drinks. Buy up those cheap Christmas themed chocolates and eat up! Sing seasonal songs. Greet people warmly. And keep that feeling in your heart for the rest of the year.

May we all have a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2015, and merry Christmas.

It's Not a Competition

Here I am planning a blog entry. Oddly, Sean is at another computer going over his blog. He likes to check the stats on his blog. I am amused that certain blogs get huge numbers of hits, while others, fewer.  Sean's actually going to add an entry to his blog about my Weird Things Couples Fight About entry. He's annoyed that there aren't enough people reading his side of the story. Really? It's not a competition. No one is keeping score, at least I'm not.

Jesse is chalking this up to a gender issue. He said, "Everything's a competition to a testosterone filled man. That's called sticking up for the gender." I guess he has a point.

I'm going to drink my cup of tea, made by Sean while he was cleaning the kitchen.

Nighty night. Pleasant dreams to all.

Kitty Blog # 23, by Gandalf the Grey- I'm Back, a Lean, Green Fighting Machine

It's been a year since I've been able to get access and blog, a busy, busy, terrible year.

First my people were planning a bar mitzvah. Then they were planning for a bat mitzvah and a trip to Israel. My question- What's Israel. They talk about it a lot. They seem excited about it, but if it was really great, why wouldn't they take me? Don't they want to share all the best things in life with me?

The trip to Israel was followed by my people going to a place called Ramah. They go every year. It must be a terrible place, because they aren't allowed to take me. I know. Gavi asked if I could come. At least I know he misses me.

Then, when I thought they were finally home, they left again. This time was really bad because Jennifer came back broken. Seriously. She couldn't move. She couldn't pick me up. She couldn't bend over to pet me or feed me. She couldn't change the water in my bowl. It was terrible. She also had trouble with the computer, so it was rarely available for me to jump on. But, finally, she's better, and I can share my saga.

What a year it's been! You'll all remember the terrible restriction of food I was suffering. It continues, although there has been some easing up. Still, every two weeks they shove me into a box to take me in the moving box to a place called the vet. There I stand on a table, my poor paws sweating like mad from the trip. My people talk to the vet people about my weight for, like, two minutes, and back into the box, happily this time because I know we're headed home. It hasn't been all bad though. They've stopped feeding me with that infernal humiliation ball. My food is delivered by a magical device. Every evening Sean gives me some treats, then sets the magic device. I've tried to figure out its working, but to no avail. Jennifer gives me treats and chicken more.

I have also discovered that I can run and jump again. No longer do I have to jump from the floor to a chair to reach the kitchen counter. Straight up I can go. My people yell and cheer me on every time I do it. I also caught a giant bug that ticked. Jennifer said it was a cicada. I think I prefer tuna, but it was yummy. The squirrels and butterflies no longer make fun of me. I haven't caught one yet, but I came close with a butterfly. Those colours must make them yummy. Squirrels watch out. I believe there will come a day.

Meanwhile, with my people's trips, I am racking up a fan club of very nice people who come to stay at the house all for me. (Okay, maybe for Nora too.)

I know there will come a day, soon, when my food will once again be there for the taking. It will come. I will wait for it; pray for it. It will come. Soon. I hope.

Shemot- Our Drama Continues

Vayomer Adonai  el-Moshe, ‘Atah tireh asher e’eseh l’Faroh ki b’yad chazakah y’shalcheim uv’yad chazakah y’garsheim mei’artzo.’
And Adonai said to Moshe, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by a strong hand he shall let them go, and by a strong hand he will drive them out of his hand.’ (Shemot 6:1)
Recently, the newest instalment in biblical epic films opened. Exodus: Gods and Kings opened to bad reviews and controversy. Forbes magazine reviewer, Scott Mendelson wrote, “Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is a terrible film. It is a badly acted and badly written melodrama that takes what should be a passionate and emotionally wrenching story and drains it of all life and all dramatic interest.” It’s a shame. The trailer looks spectacular. The special effects seem to contain all the drama of the text itself.
The book of Shemot is an amazing drama. The number of films made of this story attest to its drama. Beginning with a reminder of all those who went down to Egypt, we know the Israelites are about to be enslaved. Revelation at Sinai is our defining moment. But, even more so than Sinai, 400 years of slavery is an essential feature of the Jewish narrative. Throughout the Torah we are reminded to act and react because of our experience as slaves in Egypt.
Following on the drama of Breishit, from creation to Noah, from Avraham to Joseph, the drama has moved from family politics to the story of a nation. It is a story of our nation. Our nation’s story does not exist in a vacuum. We act upon, and are acted upon by others.
Our story in Egypt is an emotional one. We all know the story from the Hagaddah. God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched are. We speak of that arm, that hand, being the arm and hand of God. God tells us He brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Our parasha shows that it is actually Pharaoh’s strong hand that first enslaved us and then drove us out. So, whence comes the outstretched arm? Rav Avraham Kook suggested the outstretched arm implies hope, “and unrealized potential” or “a work in progress.” The strong arm gave us the start, but after we advanced. We advanced to Sinai, to the mitzvot, and to our destiny. And for this reason, said Rav Kook, our mitzvot are all connected to our time in and redemption from Egypt.

Our drama has not yet ended. There is still so much more work to do.